Studies have revealed that certain bats can live upwards of 40 years, according to Science Advances. How is it possible that such tiny creatures can live so long? Scientists believe the answer lies in bat DNA, specifically telomeres.
What do telomeres do? Let’s find out.
What Do Telomeres Do?
Science Advances explained that myotis bats — also known as mouse-eared bats — do not experience wear and tear on their telomeres, the caps on the ends of chromosomes that typically deteriorate over time. Basically, the length of telomeres determines lifespan length.
However, other bat species, humans and most other animals experience shortening of the telomeres during cell replication. Tissues deteriorate as cells break down over time, which causes aging and ultimately leads to death.
Larger animals seem to have longer life spans while smaller animals tend to live fewer years. Mouse-eared bats contradicted that standard. A 41-year-old Myotis brantii, or Brandt’s bat, lived 10 times longer than standard models predicted, according to Science Advances.
Researchers examined 225 target genes associated with telomere maintenance and compared the bat DNA to the sequences of the genomes of 52 other mammals, focusing on those genes associated with telomeres. In the mouse-eared bats, the telomeres stayed the same length compared to other species in which the telomeres shorten with age, per Atlas Obscura.
The researchers theorized that these unique mechanisms contribute to the exceptional longevity of the mouse-eared bats.
Have Animals Learned How to Live Forever?
Mouse-eared bats join the ranks of other animal species that seem to have figured out how to live forever.
Among the near-immortals of the animal kingdom are the naked mole rat, Quahog mollusk and American lobster. Naked mole rats don’t suffer the effects of aging such as weaker bones and muscles, Atlas Obscura noted. In the wild, naked mole rats die from predators or infections, but in the lab, they can live upwards of 35 years.
In 2016, researchers found a 507-year-old ocean quahog near Iceland and discovered that its cell membranes were resistant to the aging process. Similarly, American lobsters have no known functional lifespan and can live to 140 years old or more, the BBC reported.
Bats and lobsters seem to share similar approaches to long life. Like the mouse-eared bats, American lobsters do not damage their telomeres during repeated replication, according to the BBC.
Uncovering the Secrets of Long Life
Scientists believe studying mouse-eared bats can provide essential information on how to extend the human lifespan.
Biology professor Emma Teeling of Dublin University told Motherboard that studying the DNA behavior of bats could be key in engineering anti-aging drugs, though there is admittedly still much to learn about the aging process of certain bats.
Who knew that such small creatures could pose such an enigma? Next time you see a tiny, dark figure dash through the night sky, just think — that bat might be older than you.